tv The Stream Al Jazeera November 14, 2013 7:30pm-8:01pm EST
hi, i aim lisa fletcher and you are in "the stream." suicides and accidental precipitation overdoses are alarmingly high in the u.s. military. is indies cell natural dispensing of painkillers and psychiatric drugs to blame? ♪ ♪ could the military have a drug problem? the he is department of defense spends billions of drugs to treat mental illness and reduce pain, in fact a recent report by the department of veterans affairs found that v.a. doctors
prescribe specifically more opiates to stress patients than other veterans. congress held a hearing. family members, veterans and doctors testified about the culture of prescribing drugs at the v.a. >> unfortunately, we have given the veterans the impression that for whatever problem they have, we have a pill to help it. one or two bills to depression, one for anxiety. one or two for sleep, one for ptsd. add a few more pills for hypertension, diabetes, asthma, then add one or two or three precipitations for narcotics, what happens if a vet adds some over the counter medications or if he drinks alcohol? >> suicide and accidental overdose among veterans and active service members is twice as high as the national average. leading some to question whether the drugs are treating mental illness and pain or making the problem worse. so how effective are these precipitation drugs at treating what ale also our veterans?
>> producer is here monitoring our social media. we know about the relationship between precipitation drugs and suicide or accidental overdose. >> speak big relationships, we had a lot of online comments from family members of veterans. >> we did. >> how this is affecting and destroying their lives, as an active duty spouse, i can tell you it's not only the veterans that struggle, the family struggles every single day. here is jen, also a spouse my husband has ptsd. takes eight pills daily. he's a zombie, can't leave the house, this is a problem. jeremy who is a vet says, look, some vets lost regular health care and sent to v.a. like me. he had excellent health care, good points, jeremy. this website did great research. it found precipitations of four opiates to veterans have more than tripled since 9/11. check out the red dots that's where it's most common, oregon, california, the south, midwest.
>> all over the east that report brought this to the mainstream conversation. >> the stats are staring. >> they are. joining us is dr. stephen a psychiatrist and retired army brigadier general, he works with soldiers and veterans suffering from ptsd and brain injuries. on skype, ryan is honoringer for iraq veterans against the war. he is currently undergoing treatment for ptsd. and other conditions. we reached out to the military and the department of veterans affairs to appear on the program tonight, and they declined. however, a v.a. spokesperson gave us this at the same time, which reads in part, the v.a. takes seriously the responsibility to balance the need of veterans with pain and the potential dangers of precipitation drugs, including open oids. the v.a.'s statement will be available in full on our websi website. >> so doctor, vets and active members of the military are dieing at a an alarming rate. expert point to the connection between these prescribed drugs and suicides and accident
overdoses. what's going on here? >> i think you have a situation where a number of these, mostly young men and well, find themselves at the end of a rope. they have tried the treatments. and even the best studies show that these medications work only about half of the patients to which they are prescribed. so you have a whole other half that are still suffering and go through sort of a list of drugs, almost in a trial and error way and they are not getting better. and then what happens is that doctors, as part of practice, will start piling on one precipitation and if the patient is having a side effect from a medication, they give another medication for that side effect. until finally they -- a veteran can get in to a state like they feel just sort of totally zombie identified. and they are not able to work they are not able to have relationships that they want and they are not getting better and they are at a deadened.
and when we they get to the dead end they feel all they can do is kill themselves. it's really sad. >> ryan you got to a point where you almost overdosed on your precipitations. tell us what happened. how did you get there? >> i well, mine, over the past 12 months being , i think i havy meds changed over 10 times. and, you know, you really only get to see a psychiatrist about every 30 days, you know, when you make an appointment, you have to book it out 30 days in advance. so the communication is just not there. you know, i was told to take a certain sequence, and i did so, and, yeah, it wasn't very pretty. >> he's talking about one of the problems that we are seeing in psychiatry, not just in the military, in the v.a., but also in the private sector, where the psychiatrists feel that what they are asked to do and what,
in fact, they are compensated for by the insurance company is prescribing medications and not really giving the whole treatment package. well, these precipitations are trial and error. you know, it's -- you might have some experience to know what ma patients what works bet, but there are no objective tests out there to decide what medication is going to work best with a patient and they really, i find in my own clinical practice, i need to see people pretty frequently. and i need to be able to spend a lot of time with them to understand what going on. well, that's not paid for. that's not funded. that's not the way things work right now. either in the v. on. va or outside practice. >> we have this statement. do they get kickbacks, i was told by a dock tar i am trying to get better not get hi. anhigh. chris says i broke my tibia and
fibula, and the v.a. didn't give me anything the pain was unbearable so i drank a lot. lynette says: ryan, you didn't get love and listeners. talk about the military culture where you can be sent back in to active duty even though you are emotionally and mentally unfit. >> yeah, sure. you know, it's referred to as commander's discretion, where even commanders can override the opinion of a doctor. so if a doctor tells the command structure that that sole jef sos not to do push ups because he has a broken arm, that's typically adhered to. but in the air areas where it's affected me directly and other service members is where they have doctor's recommendation for his nondeployable conditions, ptsd. tbi. mst and commanders continue to deploy them.
my case i was in the field, so i was out there training, a week after being put on a pretty intense medication. you know, i had tremors and cramps and i was told to keep training. >> wait a minute, so you were active duty, you were put on all these medicine an medicines andt sent someplace to recover and be monitors, you just went back out in the field? >> yeah. it's pretty common practice. you go to approach the medical personnel that's out in the field at the time, and the military culture suggests like unless you are about to die, suck it up. >> were you too medicate today function probably, ryan? >> i didn't participate in any of the training sensually. i was sitting on a cot under a shade. they just wanted me to be out there, you know, with the tremors, stomach cramps and, you know, it got scary. i ended up taking myself off, which is also a terrible idea. but, you know, better than the a.m. alternative. >> doctor, this is another portion of the statement that we got from the v.a. tonight.
it says the veterans health administration has worked aggressively to promote and improve the safe and effective use of ope open oeud therapy. i am no doctor but that sounds like literal pain. seems like these medications are being used today treat mental disorders is that the correct usage? >> no, not necessarily. no, it's not. but, in fact, that's what happened. you have the opiates, you know, morphine-like drugs that were used for these men who particularly were having a combination of problems. that's where the real challenge is. i mean, we think of everything in little compartments. so we have emotional pain and we have stress and we have got musculoskeletal aches and pains and broken bones and medicine is so fragmented that that is unfortunately what happens, patients go from specialist to specialist or doctor to doctor. but all these things work a
coupaccumulatively they can alle on and cause a sense of pain and disfor i can'disfor i can't, orr the war fighter. the other complications or iad blasts, 40% of the army and marines who deployed, that's like 2.6 million people, fours% were expose today ied blasts, those blasts, and particularly when they are close, will cause a lot of physical pain. they cause headaches, and they cause sleep problems and in fact being the eardrums will burst. and they'll have all sorts of problems ringing in the ears, and as well as sorts of physical pain. so it gets very mushy in terms of how you treat them, how you give them time. and how much of these medications you prescribe.
and how long you use them. simplest thing it to say the soldier comes in and says i got pain, i got this, i am not feeling right, and say all right, we'll give you a narcotic. >> and i imagine that things are compartmentalized like you said the doctors aren't communicating with each other to compare notes and integrate the treatment plan. >> no. >> well, it's not just those who have served that suffer. when a veteran dies loved ones are left behind and often with more questions than answers and that leaves little comfort or clear four the families. one courageous mom joins us after the break. >> on al jazeera america change the way you look at news next, tune into live news at 8 and 11 >> i'm john seigenthaler and here's a look at the headlines.. >> infomation changes by the hour here... >> our team of award winning journalists brings you up to the minute coverage of today's events... then, at 9 and midnight. america tonight goes deeper with groundbreaking
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♪ ♪ my life resolved around when is my next pill, when is my next dosage increase, and when can i get my next refill. at my worst points i was taking number pills daily to treat 4:00 flaifourterminally ill can. >> he was different several precipitation drugs, but when a veteran or active duty member dies from accidental overdose or suicide it's the families that suffer. joining us now is lou an, her son died of be accidental precipitation overdose almost two years ago think thank you for joining us. before we get in to what happened to danny, tell us what kind of guy he was. >> hi. danny was awesome. he was brave. he was caring, he was kind, loyal. he received every medal he could in the army.
>> medal of valor. he gave his purple heart back. he sounds like an amazing guy. >> he said it was offered and he thought there were others more deserving. >> incredible. danny like so many of these returning vets, was haunted by what economy fronted in iraq. and he struggled after he came home. i know he moved back in with you and your husband, you took him to the montrose va hospital. what did the doctors there do? >> well, he was actually taken there via ambulance from the culinary ins doubt of america in hyde park. but basically the doctors they kept him inpatient for a few days. they diagnosed him with t.b.i. and ptsd and gave him several medications. and then we went to pick him up and brought him back home and took him out of school for a while to recover. >> how did those pills make him act? >> well, he kind of was walking
around like very stoned, zombie like. he would fall asleep while eating. he would smoke a cigarette and you would have to catch him and just pray to god wasn't going to burn the house down. he would forget he took them, when he took them, so then he would go back and take more. so we finally took all of the pills away. and went and bought a pillbox and put his pills in there and hit the rest of them. so if he went to the pillbox and they were gone, he knew he took them. that's the only way we tried to keep it under control for him. >> doctor, is what she is describing something that is an anomaly or have you heard this story before? >> sadly i have heard this story lots of times. you know, i feel so sad for her and her son. but it's tragic. >> well, our community find this
epidemic really tragic. i mean, brent says the country as a a whole has a drug problem. too much money to be made medicating rather than a addressing the actual problem. too many precipitation drugs have side effects worse than symptoms they are designed to treat. andrew says the treatment sounds similar to how quote troubled children are medicated instead of being dealt with more substantially. tony says veterans feel betrayed, they serve by giving one % why do we turn our back on the same people who protect our freedom. bet i says how do we get to the root cause? i know traumatized soldiers are being redeployed. what can civilians do. we were talking about these numbers, 22 veterans kill themselves a day. that's twice the number of civilians. how do with get to that points in this country i? >> how did we get do that point? >> yes. >> we brought these people back, they went back to their communities, many of them are rural communities and they are not a lot of resources there. and we didn't prepare them to transition and give them a
support. an entire wraparound them what they needed in order to build a new life for them. to use what they had learned in the military, because there are some -- lots of good good thingt come from that military experience. but to understand that it is going to take, two, three years. and they are going to learn some new habits. and they are going to have to adjust to some of the injuries that they have had. expect that they are going to get better. but that there are people there that this can turn to. and that hasn't happened. we did not plan for the aftershock of the war. >> so louanne, you and your husband were trying to help absorb some of the aftershock for your son, you were trying to shepherd him through this process helping him manage his medicine. walk us through christmas 2011. >> well, he came home from school, we had a wonderful christmas. the morning of the 29th of december of 2011, i went
upstairs and knocked on his door, and i pushed the door open a little and i saw his feet and i pushed it open a little more, and he was laying there in his bed, and he was -- his hands were on the computer. and i went over and i kept saying, danny, danny, and i shook him. but he didn't -- his head was flipped back on the pillow. and his mouth was open. and he didn't feel like you were pushing a regular, live person. and at that point i panicked and screamed and my daughter ran and got my husband and her husband, who is in the army, and my daughter and son-in-law started cpr until the ambulance could get there. but there were all his pill bottles were open and empty.
and unfortunately, he was declared dead at the hospital. and there is really not a lot more. it was -- it was more than tragic. >> it's beyond tragic. there are no words i am sure. ryan, look, an autopsy was done on danny, determined that this was an accidental overdose. >> yeah. you know, i found it odd and i didn't really -- thank god i was seeing a psychiatrist, a forensic psychiatrist who is also a v.a. psychiatrist and i had asked him how do they know? and he goes, you know, lou albuquerque an, he said people would ptsd and dramatic brain injury are real prone to be forgetful. probably what happened is he took his meds, fell asleep, woke up he took more, fell asleep.
woke up, took more. forgot he took them. woke up, and he goes, you know what, a lot of times they fall asleep after the first or second set, but unfortunately, he kept -- he woke up and took more and woke up and took more. and then he did not wake up. but i guess if you are -- if the problem you have causes forgetfulness and these problems, your arming these men with bottles of pills and just don't assume that everybody knows how to take them. because if you forget -- the only reason we knew to take his meds away and put them in pill bottles is that i had a stroke and that is how my husband set it up for me and took me through it. so i didn't have that problem. >> ryan, i want you to jump in here. i see you nodding your head. >> yeah. i am in the same position as far
as keeping track and, you know, that was something that i had to take my own initiative on. you know, after just the past few weeks when i had a blackout, i need to start writing down when i take my meds. and you know, we were talking about why is this happening? you know, why are the numbers so crazy now? and if you look at -- there is something about the occupations in the last decade are so unlike any other war that we been in, you no what i mean? we are second the same guys back over and over. when i physician got in i was talking to guys who spent more time in iraq and afghanistan than they had in the united states, you know what i mean. we have never done that before. you know, we are sending them -- getting traumatized and going back and going back and going back. and our solution is to try to pacify the signs and symptoms and nothinsymptomsand nobody isl like the causes and conditions are really being addressed. i don't think that we are looking deep enough in to why is this actually happening. you know, it just is a frustrating issue. >> i want to talk more about that can the doctor when we come
back from the break. over prescribing drugs to our nation's military. obviously seems like a behemoth of a problem. but if the v.a. and d.o.d. take the right cues there are those that think there's a better way forward for our suffering vets. we'll talk about it right after the break. consider this: the news of the day plus so much more. >> we begin with the government shutdown. >> answers to the questions no
one else will ask. >> it seems like they can't agree to anything in washington no matter what. >> antonio mora, award winning and hard hitting. >> we've heard you talk about the history of suicide in your family. >> there's no status quo, just the bottom line. >> but, what about buying shares in a professional athlete? on august 20th, al jazeera america introduced a new voice in journalism. >> good evening everyone, welcome to al jazeera. >> usa today says: >> ...writes the columbia journalism review. and the daily beast says: >> quality journalists once again on the air is a beautiful thing to behold. >> al jazeera america, there's more to it.
♪ ♪ welcome back. we are talking about the military and the over precipitation of drugs to treat mental illness and pain. before the break we asked our community what they thought about the solutions. >> look, the department of veteran affairs does not do enough to help veterans, period. there is ample room for improvement across the board. a suggestion, probably all going to come down to more funding. but congress is never going to part with it. we are not doing enough. and she has a suggestion, maybe allow these soldiers to have access to marijuana, make it nationwide you might see fewer overdoses at least. a great video comment from a vet, jeremy, give him a listen. >> veterans who get painkillers from the veterans administration, we are very controlled. every month we have to get new precipitations written. it's not month to month. we get frequent urinalysis exams
to make some their we are not abusing the drugs or being criminal with them. and the system needs more medical care. not more precipitations. >> doctor, the military and the v.a. recognize that there is a problem, but there is a huge difference between recognition and action. do you think that this is more i've leadership issue as -- or perhaps a funding issue. >> i think it's a leadership issue. i think it's the way you organize. i think there is also a transforming the health care system, really at the frontlines. and you've got people who are very dedicated, conscientious, you have people who have been in the system for a long time as care providers and support people. and what we are looking at is to shift what they do to think more about integrated care, to think more about using these other mo dal at thises, very therapies
and other alternative therapies. but to do that it takes leadership that can inspire them and check on them. it's transformation leadership. and that's very difficult. the v.a. is a very big organization. it's operated in some places independently. and they will in each of these places they say, we are going to do what we have been doing and what and what we do is right. it's the challenge, i don't think the issue is money. >> well, our community is really respond to go louanne's story. my hard goes out to louanne, she's right, we arm so many in the military with tools for destruction. p.t.s.d. and soldiers suicides are a result of what they experienced. and then there is beddy, bettya concerned antiwar activist. how can people get involved.
try arms how can civilians help here? >> i mean, i have been involved with iraq veterans against the war and i have been really impressed with the operation recovery, they are trying to eliminate that commanders ability to like override a medical opinion. if somebody is already suffering from previous delight little, let's stop it there. we can talk about treatment but the best solution is prevent it from happening in the first place. >> louanne, i am sure tonight was difficult for you to talk about and relive. why did you come on the program. >> i basically came on the program because i want to find the way to get it out there that when these men come back, and they are tested two or three days later for ptsd, i believe they need a longer transition and more testing. i believe that the families need
to know what to look for with their loved ones to try. because the people that may have these issues, may not understand what they have. and we need -- and the parents and the families need to know who to call. what to watch for. how to help. and be -- with the families being involved in the community and the v.a., and volunteers, and their peers, i believe that would be a big step to make these men understand they are not alone. they are not goings craze. >> i that is the biggest thing there, not alone. that is all the time that we have. thanks to all of our guests for an amazing discussion tonight. between now and the next show, we'll see on you line.